Breaking the Rules, Bearing The Consequences

My parents will deny they taught me any such thing, but one of the noteworthy things I took away from my childhood was that rules are in place for a reason. Mostly, that reason has something to do with control. You can break the rules, but if you do, you have to be prepared to take the consequences.

By and large, I’ve always found that whenever I wanted to do something against the rules, the consequences were rarely much of a deterrent. I kind of thought of them as taxes– they were just the price I paid for getting to do what I wanted, and compared to the alternative, following the rules, it was a little enough price. So now I hardly ever think about ‘the rules’ or ‘how things are done’ because there’s just ‘Things I Want To Do‘ and ‘The Price I Pay To Do Them‘. And the price is nearly always peanuts.

For some reason, most people who find themselves in conflict of the rules have a kind of 1984 mind-block about the idea that rules are breakable, especially what I call the implicit rules. There seems to be this unconscious assumption that because everyone is doing things in a particular way, it simply can’t be done any other way.

Or, that the consequences are just too dire to even contemplate. People in authority like to perpetuate this mindset. The looming or else keeps people in line far better than any clearly delineated consequences do.

It sounds so ridiculous when you look at it that way, and I think everyone feels a little foolish when they realize they’re doing it. It becomes obvious that the cage door is open.

So the trick is to realize you’re doing it.

Notice Your Constraints

The first step is to identify the places where you feel hesitant or constrained. That’s a pretty good indication that you’re running into conflict with a rule, implicit or otherwise.

The truly humbling part of this exercise is realizing how many of your implicit rules have no foundation outside of your head. These are sometimes known as limiting beliefs.

Identify the Consequences for Rule-Breaking

The simplest way to do this, in a way that will avoid engaging a bunch of emotional, change-averse biases, is to simply sketch out three scenarios:

  •  Worst case
  • Probable case
  • Ideal case
  • Compare to status quo

These are your benchmarks, and will allow you to gauge your risk tolerance. In most cases, the space between worst case and probable case is vast. Identifying your ideal case is usually self-fulfilling because as soon as you name it you suddenly see a half a dozen ways to tweak your execution to make your ideal outcome more probable.

And, as always, your status quo sits there in silent reproach to demonstrate the risk you take in not acting.

Bearing the Incredible Burden Of Destroying The Very Fabric Of Society

Have you ever had a teacher or a parent who always threatened dire, TERRIBLE things if you didn’t do as you were told? Did you ever reach a point where you decided to do what you wanted anyway, and it turned out they were completely full of shit? That they didn’t really plan to punish you anyway, or if they did, it was something laughable, like not ‘letting’ you do what you didn’t want to do anyway?

Yeah. I hardly ever take the putative ‘consequences’ of my actions. There’s no one to enforce them! They have no more substance than a frog fart.

What rules have you broken that didn’t have the consequences you thought it would?


6 thoughts on “Breaking the Rules, Bearing The Consequences”

  1. I use a visual aid: write the worst, best, and probably case on a 3×5 card for each. Put “worst” at the far left edge of the table, and “best” at the far right edge, and then put “probably” in between, where you believe it really belongs. Seeing ourselves put the “probably” card way toward the right reinforces that our probably case is almost always closer to our best case than otherwise.

    1.  @spinhead Cool hack! I’m quite a bit lazier than that, but isn’t it shocking how far from worst case the probably case is? Nearly all the time?

      1.  @Shanna Mann Exactly. This usually follows my flashlight speech, about the dark shape on the chair isn’t so scary when you realize it’s just a pair of jeans. Put a face on the fear, see where it really is, and it just stops being so scaryl

    Our “adults” very seldom really <i>intended</i> to teach us whatever lessons we’ve internalized. And that’s a huge part of the problem with the invisible rules we built from them – they’re often totally ‘illogical’ from an adult POV!

    1.  @Karen J No, and I’m also sure my parents thought they were instilling a respect for authority in me. It never took, however. 🙂

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